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I've encountered a sentence where

they would no sooner [A] than they'd [B]

apparently means

they would rather [B] than [A]

I've read that the construction 'no sooner [A] than [B]' is used to describe a situation where an event [A] is followed immediately by [B]. Because of that, according to my intuition, if I had to substitute 'no sooner than' with 'would rather' - which doesn't make much sense to me - I wouldn't invert the order of [A] and [B]. That is to say, for me the first sentence grammatically feels like

they would rather [A] than [B]

and not

they would rather [B] than [A]

My first question is whether it makes sense to use 'no sooner than' when actually meaning 'rather than'. My second question is about the order of events if we can indeed use it as 'rather than'.

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  • they would no sooner [A] than they'd [B] sounds clumsy to my native ear. I prefer they would no sooner [A] than [B] Sep 10, 2019 at 20:56
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    You're incorrect about its meaning. He'd no sooner eat meat than he would blaspheme means that he does not eat meat and he does not blaspheme, and they are equally bad things that he would never do. The equality is from the as ... as equative. The negative is from the no in no sooner. Sep 11, 2019 at 2:01

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In this case, 'sooner' is being used like 'rather'. We can use 'would sooner' to talk about a preference, usually of one thing over another, e.g. I would sooner go hungry than eat eggs. We can also use 'would no sooner' to talk about unwillingness to do either one of two things; often (but not always) the second thing is unrealistic or ridiculous and used to emphasise the dislike of the first option - I would no sooner go out without a hat than I would go out naked; I would no sooner think of writing something out first of all than fly to the moon; I would no sooner choose Elementary over Sherlock, than I would eat my own hair.

Sooner

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